The Story Behind: The pic of a tearful Thatcher leaving Downing Street one last time

OF all the photographs used by the Press last week, to accompany their reporting of the death of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, there is one that stands out: with her husband, Denis, by her side in the car that is to take her Buckingham Palace, she cranes forward and to her right, looking straight into the lens. Her eyes bloodshot, it is the tearful moment when she leaves Downing Street for one last time, after 11 years in power.

The photographer in question is Scot, Ken Lennox, who was working for the Daily Mirror at the time. As he says, it is a picture that is probably used somewhere in the world every day, though he says he has more favourite ones in his collection, including Bob Geldof in Ethipioa and several of the late Princess Diana.

The 70 year-old is now freelancing and his career includes working all over Fleet Street, including as picture editor at The Sun. He says he was 21 years with the Daily Express, adding that he sold his first picture – coincidentally, to the Express – aged 13, for £13 10s, as much as his father earned in a week, which confirmed to him what he was going to do for a career. His first staff job with the now defunct Evening Citizen, before being lured by the Express to work in Aberdeen.

His many tales include being sent on a jet aircraft to Tenerife, to identify the body of Mirror owner, Robert Maxwell, who had died at sea, after disappearing from his yacht.

He was picture editor of the News of the World for just over a year, at the personal invitation of owner, Rupert Murdoch, to help then editor, Rebekah Brooks (then Wade), to settle in. “Apparently, she had asked for me because she knew she could scream at me and I wouldn’t faint,” he said.

Here, he explains the story behind…

What exactly was the brief?

I had travelled with Thatcher around the world, so she knew me, and, because of that, when it was looking like her Prime Ministership was coming to an end, I was called back from covering the First Gulf War, by Len Greener, my picture editor. I was on the Kuwait border when I got the call.

It was looking like she was going to be booted out by her own party. It was my birthday – November 21 – when I got to Downing Street, and the statement was issued that she was going to fight on. And then it was a question of just waiting, for days. You hang around – on the space that had been secured for you and your ladder long before you have even got there – you get sandwiches delivered, and you wait and you wait.

What led up to the shot?

I was standing on my ladder in Downing Street, there were about 300 photographers gathered. When she came out of No.10, she delivered her speech, rock solid. And then she looked up at the windows, as she turned towards the car. The girls, from her private office, were looking down, and all were weeping buckets. I could tell she was startled by it, and I dropped off the ladder and looked into the car, with the long lens. At first, I couldn’t see her, because Denis had got into the car, beside her, on my side. And then, as the car started to move forward, she leaned forward for a last look.

I got one frame. If I hadn’t known her and noticed that little flinch that she made, I wouldn’t have got off the ladder.

I knew right away that it was what you call the ‘money shot’, unless the flash had bounced off the car windows.

But it was the days of film, so it needed to be developed and printed before I knew for sure. So, the film was immediately dispatched on a bike, back to the paper.

I eventually got to the office myself and, as I was arriving, the picture editor was running up the stairs, with a 15×12-inch print in his hand, asking me if anyone else had got it.

I said I didn’t know, because it had been so busy, but after we saw the first editions of all the other newspapers, we knew it was exclusive, which we slapped across the second edition.

It’s earned the paper a lot of money since.

F-stops, kit, etc?

A Nikon camera, a 300mm f 2.8 lens, at 5.6 at 1/100th of a second. The reason I know that is because the British Journal of Photography contacted me the following day.

And how did you secure that first sale, at the age of 13, for £13 10s?

It was a photograph of Maryhill Barracks being pulled down and I got the pic of the Seargant Major, in his full uniform, marching across the parade ground as they were pulling the building down, behind him.

I am from Paisley and I had got myself a summer holiday job with a Glasgow news agency that’s no longer around. And my job was to make sure the radio was turned on, go out for food and clean the windows. The boss – a really nice guy – gave me a camera and some plates, to have a go taking photographs. I learned to process them, and I really liked it.

And then he gave me a camera to keep until the Easter holidays and a pile of film – probably out-of-date stock – to keep practising. I remember him joking I owed him 50 per cent of my fee. He was fantastic. And of course, I knew to contact the Express because I had learned how a news agency works.